By Tony Massarotti
So let me get this straight: so long as LaVar Ball is talking trash — mostly about how good his sons are — you can’t get the old man to shut up. But now that one of his children has been popped for shoplifting halfway across the globe, well, he’s doing the old media flyby and using the law as an excuse.
Funny how that happens.
“He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine,” Ball told a reporter about his son LiAngelo, while failing to break stride, as he walked through a hotel lobby in Shanghai. “Everybody making it a big deal. It ain’t that big of a deal.”
Maybe yes, maybe no.
But it was nice to see the World’s Loudest Dad squirm a little.
Before we trash Ball, too much, let’s back up here for a minute. On some level, the father of Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo is downright brilliant. Before Lonzo (now with the Los Angeles Lakers) burst into national prominence as a freshman at UCLA last season, nobody outside of the hardcore hoop world had really heard of Ball. More importantly, nobody had ever heard of Ball’s shoe company, the Big Baller Brand. Purely as a marketer, Ball knows precisely what he’s doing. It’s called brand recognition. And he has it.
Is the company successful? Doesn’t feel like it. But that’s beside the point. Thanks to Ball, it at least has a chance, because we know it exists.
As for Ball’s presence on the proverbial sidelines of his children’s careers, let’s all agree that he is the Godzilla of overbearing parents. Or at least that he wants us to think he is. Ball has trash-talked everyone from Michael Jordan to Stephen A. Smith in the last year, and he even trash-talked Magic Johnson, who now employs his oldest son. When asked last year to describe his son’s game, the elder Ball suggested Lonzo was every bit as good as Magic, but “with a jump shot.”
And in a supersaturated world of media camera, phones and microphones, there is always someone there to record Lonzo’s next ridiculous rant.
But given the news yesterday in China, here’s the thing: the Ball boys had better be more than ball boys. They’d better be able to play. Or at least one of them had better be able to. LaVar’s model will work if Lonzo can excel during his NBA career, but he’ll be nothing more than the next guy experiencing his 15 minutes of fame if his sons prove to be busts. Or, worse yet, if they prove to be criminals, ripping off items in a Louis Vuitton store before they turn 20.
Tonight, for what it’s worth, Lonzo and the Los Angeles Lakers are in Boston to play the Celtics, with whom the Balls are already interwoven. Last summer, when the Celtics possessed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Lonzo Ball denied the Celtics’ request for a workout, holding true to LaVar’s insistence that his son would play only for the Lakers. The Celtics ended up trading the pick to Philadelphia, which selected Markelle Fultz. After Ball went to the Lakers, the Celtics plucked Jayson Tatum at No. 3.
So far, if matters, Tatum has clearly been the best player of the three, averaging nearly 32 minutes a game to go along with 14.3 points per game. He is shooting .529 from three-point distance and .822 from the line. Ten or 11 games hardly mean anything in a budding career, for all of LaVar’s talking, Tatum has been the better player.
Does that mean anything? No. Not yet. But make no mistake. If Lonzo proves a bust, he’ll do more damage to LaVar’s reputation (and brand) than any shoplifting charge levied against any of the Ball sons.
There really won’t be much for LaVar to say.
And nobody will care to listen.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.